Funchal (deriving from the Portuguese word "funcho" or fennel - ever since the abundance of the vegetable in centuries gone by) is in a word a "jangle". What does this mean? It seems that everywhere you go a light swish-swashing of sounds, like coins in a pocket, or the patter of endless sneakers of tourists traversing along hotel foyers is heard.
It is a busy city. Just the traffic alone is testimony to that.
Unlike a few decades ago when it lingered along slowly, and before the all-important revolution in the mid-seventies that changed the dictatorship rule from mainland Portugal, Funchal was a sleepy and distant colonial outpost of a once-glorious Portuguese empire. Here and there reminiscences of those days can still be caught: the creaking decaying elegance of furniture at the Reid's Hotel or the rough coats of pink plaster at Fotografia Vicentes in Rua da Carreira. But all the old world charm has had to be very accommoating to the gleaming bright polished towers of glass and aluminium builing blocks. Even the mainstay of traditional tourist "must-sees" the Madeira Wine Lodges, next to the tourism office, has seen an incongruously spectacular and modern shopping centre built right behind it. The harbour has lost the sore sight of the container lot, only to be replaced by some new waterfront facilities a-lá french-riviera-style in the very near future. Yes, Funchal is moving at a frenetic pace. Eye-catching new hotels that have popped up out of nowhere lie astride decaying old wine factories and charming restaurant cottages. Fabulous sea-front apartments grow as fast as bamboo shoots next to traditional banana plantations. And still the swish swash of top model Mercedes Benz taxis as they swoosh by with another load of tourists in the rear.
It is an interesting city. Everybody is trying something new. New bars with trendy designs and minimalist boutiques show up for a short while and dissaapear in as short a time as they had to put their make-up on.... It does not take long to find revealed before us the true new gospel of Funchal: shopping. Gone is the old tie and jacket dinner culture and now in its place is a type of boardwalk posturing: flash sunglasses, with neatly manicured hair cuts and equally carefully considered accessories such as mobile phones and flash ear rings adorn the youth. Brand names abound. Consumerism has taken strong root amongst the new generation. The global economy has taken root and let many a small traditional shop to flounder.
In recent history several factors have transformed the economy of the city (it has become a place rapidly on par with the European average for the standard of living): firstly, in the late eighties Portugal, and Madeira, started receiving funds for development from the European Union. Money was poured into educational courses and infrastructure.
In the early nineties a significant change to the culture was changed when Cable television arrived. The fashions started to change. MTV altered the face of the youth into a global indiscriminate "look" - the requisite pair of Levi jeans with immaculately tailored shirts from fashion designer stores clad them top to toe. The internet started in 1997 and only started to make a real impact from 2004 onwards. The youth changed again. Instead of going out to bars and clubs they now sit at home and chat all night. McDonald's arrived in the early years of the new millenium - a threshold was crossed. Funchal was beginning to look more like any other European city. Many people lament the advent of the global food chains. Fortunately, the powers at be seem to have deemed all new global food chains fit only to be seen in the confines of new shopping centres (like Madeira Shopping, Madeira Forum and the Funchal Centrum). Or maybe it was unintentional, but the lack of any further additions of those - usually - American food store brand names, has still allowed Funchal to keep out any further encroachment on its understated dignity and reserved manner. For all its new idiosyncracies there is the counterbalance of common sense and wonderful old-world delights like the exquisite Balthazar theatre in downtown Funchal, or the charming Monte gardens and the Manueline era churches and narrow roads.